Basket Case Trilogy – Cult classics

Basket Case is a film trilogy like no other. You only have to watch the opening five minutes of the first film to see that. It’s a rare breed of shock horror that manages to deftly walk the line between bad, so bad it’s good, laugh out loud hilarious, gross out, genuinely scary and epicly brilliant!

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The story centres around Duane Bradley and his parasitic twin brother Belial. When the boys were younger their father had them separated by a team of doctors, after which Belial came to live in a wicker basket. Now, years later he is stronger and ready for a roaring rampage of revenge on the very people who removed him (literally) from his brother’s side.

These films are the kind of cinema that can only come from someone with no budget and heaps of imagination. That man is Frank Henenlotter. This is a guy who was repeatedly refused any Hollywood money and so took his love of cinema and just turned it into a reality by hook or by crook. And you can see his genuine passion for film throughout the Basket Case trilogy. There’s great puppet work, incredible make-up effects, well thought out blocking/camera moves, innovative sound design and even stop motion integrated into live action sequences! To do all of this should require a massive pile of cash. But all it took from Henenlotter was an original idea and a fuck you attitude.

Testament to this is the story of when he finally got the film released, to frantic queues of enthusiastic fans in a New York cinema. The buzz generated enticed studio execs to come down and sniff out a distribution deal. But they were so repulsed by a particular scene (the mutant parasitic twin Belial raping a young girl, which is actually ridiculous rather than visceral) that they said he would have to edit the moment out if he ever wanted a national theatre distribution. Henelotter’s response: “Fuck you!” And by himself he managed to get the film released in major cities across the US, usually at late night horror showings. Thus a cult phenomenon was born which led to two sequels.

So why am I writing about the films?

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Well it’s because after having recently watched all three movies back to back I wanted to comment on how perfectly they capture the spirit of cinema. As already mentioned it took a man with no money and a gut load of passion to make the films a reality. And whilst you may find them pulpy, trashy, derisive or disgusting you will definitely have a strong reaction to them; isn’t that what the best films always provide?

My perception of cinema has changed over the years, but something I have always recognised and respected is the amount of energy you can see on screen when a director is making something they truly love. This is the reason why the Transformers sequels were such a bore; you could tell Michael Bay was going through the motions to feed the cash cow rather than trying something new and exciting. But with all 3 Basket Case films there is an escalation in originality, horror and sheer will to create something we’ve never seen before on screen. That has to be applauded.

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Yes these films are exploitation cinema at it’s most sleazy. That is something I can easily understand as not being for everyone. But for those who are genuine fans, or even those who love a great movie to share with friends, then Basket Case (and its sequels) are a great way to go. My only regret is that I have not yet seen it in a packed auditorium with a bunch of like minded individuals. Perhaps I should contact my local independent cinemas and see if we can’t get Halloween started way way way early this year!

So massive kudos to Mr Henenlotter. Without you we may never have seen a nurse with several scalpels in her face, a policeman being strangled so hard that his lips turn inside out, a mutant-on-mutant sex scene that leads to the birth of 12 other mutants connected like bunting by a single umbilical cord or countless gore soaked murders taking place just because someone opened the lid of a laundry basket.

For all of these things and more we salute you. And if nothing else we have learned to never ever ask “what’s in the basket?”

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James is a movie obsessive with a particular love for scores and screenplays. He has written for numerous blogs, sites and cinemas and has been involved in several screenwriting projects. He can usually be found in front of a large plasma screen devouring Westerns, 80s pulp, Jimmy Stewart movies or anything by the Coens.

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